By: In Your Shoes Media
Ron Beauford became a route salesman for a Virginia food distribution company in 1992. Now, he’s president of that company. Beauford co-owns Virginia Heritage Foods, Inc., which is a multimillion dollar direct store delivery distributor based in Ashland.
Supermarkets in Virginia and beyond rely on the company to deliver goods to their stores. If you’ve purchased snacks, crackers or similar products at a grocer in the Richmond region, chances are Virginia Heritage Foods may have delivered them.
Beauford said his move up the career ladder at the company offered many rewards and some challenges. And it all started with a few bags of chips.
Tony Puccinelli founded the company in 1986 with a single product called Mucho Nacho. Puccinelli eventually purchased a Charles Chips distributorship and expanded his company from there.
Beauford joined the company in the early 90s. He was the company’s first African American salesman. Although he began as an independent route salesman, Beauford worked his way up in the company.
“During the summer of 1996, I was promoted to sales manager with eight route salesmen to supervise within the state of Virginia,” Beauford recalled. “As the company became more successful, I was promoted to executive vice president and co-owner in 1998.”
Then in January 2000, Beauford became president of the company when Puccinelli retired. Puccinelli continues to be a major stockholder in the company.
Puccinelli said that he knew Beauford was leadership material when he first met him. “It didn’t take me long to see what type of individual Ron was,” Puccinelli said. “Ron was creative and he was aggressive in a good way.”
Puccinelli said, for example, at one point early in Beauford’s career with Virginia Heritage Foods, Beauford was so ambitious that he worked two sales routes at one time. “Ron is one of the best people I’ve met in my career,” Puccinelli said.
The two men developed a close business partnership through the years, each bringing certain skills and talents to the company. For instance, Puccinelli boasts about Beauford’s hiring skills. “He’s hired good people, people with heart, who take pride in what they do,” Puccinelli said.
Meanwhile, Puccinelli, who was an accountant, showed Beauford the importance of paying attention to the bottom line. “He taught me to look at a project from start to finish,” Beauford said. “Now when I start a new project, I calculate the profitability and look at the potential bottom line before going in.”
With years of experience operating a successful business, Beauford offers advice to anyone who is considering starting a business. He said planning and budgeting should be the two key areas of focus.
“Write a business plan, create a three-year budget and be prepared to dedicate yourself to the business,” Beauford said. “Additionally, you should do a very detailed market analysis of the industry.” Knowing the market and being open to change helped Virginia Heritage Foods weather the ups and downs of the wholesale distribution industry for nearly 30 years.
Beauford said the company has endured some tough challenges including losing a long-standing client when Ukrop’s Supermarket, Inc. was sold in December 2009. “My most difficult challenge has been growing the business during the food industry’s changing landscape with new supermarkets entering the market, while losing a major family-owned, local supermarket chain (as a customer),” he said.
Beauford said the company met those and other challenges by expanding to other markets outside of Virginia including North Carolina and West Virginia, and just recently, Ohio and Kentucky; by acquiring other smaller distributors; and by adding new customers.
“My biggest accomplishments have been surviving the recession of 2007 and losing my number one customer, then (being able to) grow my business significantly (by adding new customers including) Wal-Mart and Kroger,” Beauford said.
The company continues to look for new opportunities to expand. It has added more Virginia-made products and products for the emerging Hispanic market to the items it now delivers.
Virginia Heritage Foods also has taken advantage of technology to help improve how it serves customers. For instance, Beauford worked to add a web-based accounting system that controls and tracks products and sales. Route salesmen can access the systems from any device that has internet service and Beauford can monitor their efforts from the home office. This allows the company to respond quickly to customers’ needs.
Beauford said he is looking toward more expansions during the next few years with hopes of taking the company way beyond where it started three decades ago and where it was before he took on a leadership role.
“I want us to get into refrigerated products. That’s needed to grow the company in the way that I want it to grow,” Beauford said. “And I also want to continue to position the company for more acquisitions.”